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Music Review: Various Artists – 35 Years Of Stony Plain

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Thirty-five years have passed since Holger Peterson and Alvin Jahns sat down at a kitchen table in Edmonton, Canada and formed Stony Plain Records. Now 400 or so albums later, it is recognized as one of the leading independent music labels in the world. The label has decided to celebrate its birthday this year in style, by releasing the three-CD set, 35 Years Of Stony Plain.

It is a fine introduction to its artist roster and musical approach. It is a 41-track, 10-video extravaganza that presents its brand of rock, folk, country, blues, and roots music. You even get a tour of their new offices, which is still in a house in Edmonton; also the home of a huge record collection.

The label has been the home for the well-known and obscure. Artists such as Maria Muldaur, Jeff Healey, Ian Tyson, Rodney Crowell, Rory Block, and Long John Baldry have recorded for the label. Even a few Americans such as Steve Earle, Duke Robillard, Asleep At The Wheel, and Emmylou Harris appear on the album.

As with many albums of this type, it only provides a taste of the label’s music. The tracks flow and meander, yet ultimately combine into an excellent listening experience.

Like many compilation albums by various artists, you take what you get. Long John Baldry was a legendary British blues artist who passed away during 2005. He lived in Canada the last few decades of his life and his take on the venerable “Gallows Pole” is modern blues at his best. Better yet, there is a 1991 DVD track of him performing “Shake That Thing.”

Likewise, Jeff Healey passed way several years ago. He is represented here by a live performance of “I’m Torn Down,” which demonstrates why he was considered one his generation’s better guitarists.

Ian Tyson is now 77 years old. He was a part of the early 1960s folk revival in the United States and Canada, solo and as a part of the duo Ian & Sylvia. He has been with Stony Plain for 25 years. Here, he is represented by his “Blaino’s Song “and “Springtime In Alberta.” His weathered voice is the perfect vehicle for Canadian folk music.

There is a lot to like. Steve Earle departs from his usual fare with the story song, “Ben McCulloch.” Maria Muldaur returns to her roots with the fun-filled Dan Hicks composition, “The Diplomat.” Emmylou Harris contributes a live version of the Gram Parsons/Chris Hillman song “Wheels,” which she first released as a studio track during 1975.

Canadian roots band Blue Rodeo introduces itself with Ian Tyson’s most famous song, “Four Strong Winds.” Duke Robillard, Joe Louis Walker, Jay McShann, Billy Boy Arnold, Ellen McIlwaine, and Rory Block all sing and play the blues on this release.

The most historic tracks are the four by Robert Nighthawk, who passed away November 5, 1967. He was a Delta blues artist who traveled the southern bar circuit during the 1930s and 1940s, before signing with the Chess label during the early 1950s. His recordings were few but grounded in the classic style and sound of the early Delta blues. He became an accomplished slide guitarist as his career progressed. “Nighthawk Boogie,” “I’m Gonna Murder My Baby,” “You Missed A Good Man,” and “Backwater Blues” were recorded in a small Toronto studio 45 years ago and are the last recordings of his life. Up until now, they have been unreleased. If you are interested in the history of American blues, these tracks are a treat.

Stony Plain is one of those labels that is important for music, as it takes chances and doesn’t make decisions just based on financial concerns. It has continually believed that good music always finds a market. 35 Years Of Stony Plain is a high-quality introduction to its approach and sound.

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